A Question on Catcalls
In the last 24 hours, I’ve gotten a couple new comments on my post from a while back, Why Catcalls Feel Threatening. One from a woman defending my points, and another from a man attempting to refute them.
Aside from the part where I’m extremely tired of trying to explain things over and over again, I thought I’d bring this man’s point out into the open and see what the rest of you think about it and the extensions of catcalls into generality.
His point, distilled down to a basic level, is that loud compliments are not threatening.
My point, very simply, is that they are.
He differentiates between what he calls loud compliments and the more extreme sorts of verbal threats that occur in street harassment. I’ll let you go read all the comments on the post to decide for yourself if such things deserve a distinction.
I wouldn’t even be dredging this post out of the archives right now if I hadn’t had two distinct instances of street harassment happen to me in the past seven days. Both were unsettling.
The first happened Saturday night. I had to walk home from work because no one was available at work to give me a lift, and my husband wasn’t answering his phone to come pick me up. As I’ve said before, it is a ten minute walk across a brightly lit, open-til-midnight strip mall and then half a block down a darker side street that leads to my apartment building.
I got to the light to cross the final street to home, and there were two guys standing there with a 24-pack of beer they’d just bought from the beer store.
Let me stop and tell you that is a situation that immediately makes me uncomfortable. It was around 11 at night, and it was on a busy street. And yet my alarms started going off. The gentleman refuting my prior post would say I was pre-judging or overreacting already. Let me also preface this encounter with what I was wearing, because some people find that sort of shit relevant. I was wearing loose-fitting corduroy trousers and a hooded sweatshirt with the hood pulled up over my head (it was cold, and when I have to walk home, I always aim for nondescript). I carry myself with purpose, and I’m always alert to my surroundings.
The second I began to cross the street, they started talking in Spanish about me. I happen to understand Spanish, so situations like that are even more bothersome because either they don’t expect me to understand and then say whatever nasty little thing is on their mind or they don’t care if I understand — either way is worrisome. Then they started hollering stuff at me and making kissy noises. They started to follow me across the second street, but when I got out my phone, they veered back over but kept making noises and yelling stuff.
That was the first incident.
The second happened in broad daylight. I was sitting at a bus stop, waiting for a bus (like you do) and playing Fruit Ninja on my phone. Again, clearly minding my own business like any other human on the planet. A guy walked down the street on the opposite side, then looked at me and goes, “Oh, look at this little snow bunny. Mmmm.” I was the only person in a one block radius, so he had to be talking to/about me. He continued to make some comments, then walked the remaining half a block to his apartment (yay, this guy’s my neighbour), paused in the stairwell, and made a big, “Come inside” gesture.
Both of those instances did not result in violence, only a lot of discomfort, and in the first case, anxiety and early flickers of fear until they veered back to their side of the street. But days later they’re still on my mind. At first I didn’t know what the second guy meant by snow bunny — then I found out from some friends at work that it’s a derogatory term for a white girl. In some areas it doesn’t carry a negative connotation, but it’s still a racially-charged term applied to women who hang around African-American men at its most mild.
In both instances I was almost aggressively minding my own business. I could be in no way construed as “asking for” attention in any way. And in both instances, these were a far cry from a loud, “YOU LOOK BEAUTIFUL TODAY,” which, in my opinion, is still creepy when yelled by a stranger from across a street.
In thinking about these instances as opposed to the “loud compliment” idea, I have to conclude that in my experience, “loud compliments” are almost never the case. I can’t remember the last time a catcall consisted of a simple, “YOU LOOK HOT” from distance. And even those make me feel uncomfortable, because they draw more attention than just my own. I don’t want to be singled out in public for my looks, whether the attention is perceived by the giver as positive or negative.
For me, catcalls of any kind are a very negative experience. Sometimes intensely so. “Damn, girl!” or “Hey, sexy!” are also not “loud compliments.” Those are invasive.
Here is a quote from my previous post:
Catcalls make me feel unsafe because not only are they dismissing my right to get from one place to another and mind my own business, but they are a very simple display of dominance. And they are aggressive by nature. They DEMAND attention.
Here’s where I’m going to solicit opinions. Because this issue is specifically regarding women and how women feel about catcalls, I’m going to make a request that only women respond to the poll questions that follow. I will put the results together in a post next week (or possibly after Thanksgiving).
For me, all of the women I have asked in person say that catcalls make them very uncomfortable, even “loud compliments” that don’t escalate. What that says to me is that defending “loud compliments” is doing nothing more than defending men who make women uncomfortable, knowing that they make women uncomfortable. Trying to dismiss women’s concern about these things is nothing more than sexism at its basest form. If an action makes someone uncomfortable, and people continue to knowingly propagate said action and defend those who perform it, that puts those who are performing and defending the action in the wrong. At the mildest, it’s bullying.
My bottom line is that if a behaviour makes someone feel threatened or unsafe, the behaviour needs to stop.
And because there’s no poll that will substitute for your words, I am going to make a request that you sound off in the comments.
This question is for women:
What has been your experience with catcalls? How do they make you feel?